Most of the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus has been shut down for weeks now, but ever since Tuesday, the school’s Digital Fabrication 3D printing laboratory has been up and running around the clock.
Ted Forringer, UNG Gainesville’s assistant department head in physics, has partnered with Jon Mehlferber, professor of visual arts at UNG’s Dahlonega campus, and Enes Aganovic, assistant director of technology integration at the Dahlonega campus, to 3D print N95 masks to be donated to Northeast Georgia Health System.
The masks are made of a plastic filament compatible with the printers, and in the first week of production, the UNG Gainesville campus used up nearly its entire stock. Forringer said the physics department will be purchasing $1,000 worth of filament to continue production of the masks.
Forringer was brought on board earlier this week when he received an email on Monday from Robert Turner, executive director of strategy and business development for NGHS, asking if UNG’s Gainesville campus had any available 3D printers.
“I had just had a conversation with the dean that we had to close our 3D printing lab for the rest of the semester, because we didn’t want people on campus unless they were absolutely critical,” Forringer said. “Immediately, I thought I don’t know if we can help. But, very quickly, I said but if we can, I really want to. So let me find out.”
Forringer reached out to John Leyba, interim dean of science, engineering and tech, and got the go-ahead to join in on the project. By Tuesday, the Gainesville campus 3D printing facility was up and running. Forringer has employed a team of three students — Forrest Ables, Nicholas Schantz and Tyler White — who have been returning to the lab morning, noon and night to take fresh batches of masks off the printers and get new ones started up.
The Gainesville team can produce around 30 masks a day.
“It’s great to give the students an opportunity to serve and see that yes, I can use the skills that I’ve learned here to help people,” Forringer said. “In physics, we don’t get to do a whole lot of service learning where you go out and learn by doing something for somebody else, and this is a great opportunity to experience service learning.”
The Gainesville campus joined the effort this week, but the project has been going on for a couple weeks already in Dahlonega.
Aganovic and Mehlferber initially got together in mid March to discuss what they could do to help out with the pandemic response using the 3D printing resources they had available. They reached out to NGHS to see how best they could help the medical community, and Turner got them going in the right direction.
“(Turner) kind of told us, ‘OK guys, we need to print masks,’” Aganovic said. “We were like ‘Great. We’re just going to start.’”
After receiving the designs for the masks from Mark Causey, an orthodontist and UNG alumnus working in Cumming, Aganovic and Mehlferber immediately got to printing. The Dahlonega campus has access to around three times the 3D printers of Gainesville, and produces roughly 100 masks every day, which are shipped off to NGHS every other day.
Forringer and his team have since joined up, with John Skorich, an engineering teacher at Dawon County High School, also participating in the project.
The work has been a collaborative effort that Forringer said reflects the role higher education organizations should play in any community.
“When we have the opportunity to all work together as a society to try to solve this problem, it’s a good thing to do,” he said. “Everybody is sacrificing by staying at home, and some people are losing their jobs. If we can do our bit to try to help, to try to make sure that our health and first responders aren’t getting sick as they’re out there taking care of everyone, that’s great.”